One thing that strikes you first about the saints is their diversity. It would be very difficult to find one pattern of holiness, one way of following Christ.
There is Thomas Aquinas, the towering intellectual; and the Cure of Ars, John Vianny, who barely made it through the seminary. There is Vincent de Paul, a saint in the city; and there is Anthony who found sanctity in the harshness and loneliness of the desert. There is Bernard, kneeling on the hard stones of Clairvaux in penance for his sins; and there is Hildegard of Bingen singing and throwing flowers, madly in love with God.
There is Albertus Magnus, the quirky scientist, half-philosopher and half-wizard; and there is Gerard Manley Hopkins, the gentle poet. There is Peter, the hard-nosed and no-nonsense fisherman; and there is Edith Stein, secretary to Edmund Husserl and colleague to Martin Heidegger, the most famous philosopher of the 20th century.
There is Joan of Arc, leading armies into war; and there is Francis of Assisi, the peacenik who would never hurt an animal. There is the grave and serious Jerome; and there is Philip Neri, whose spirituality was based on laughter.
How do we explain this diversity? God is an artist, and artists love to change their style. The saints are God’s masterpieces, and he never tires of painting them in different colours, different styles, and different compositions.
We might say God is a pure white light that, when refracted in the prism of creation, breaks into countless colours; each unique and each an aspect of the light. These colours are the saints; each one reflecting some aspect of the divine reality.
What does this mean for us? It means we shouldn’t try to imitate any one saint exactly. Look to them all, study their unique holiness, but then find that specific colour God wants to bear through you. St. Catherine of Sienna was right: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”